The Poppy War by RF Kuang was a powerful and terrible story. Audiobook review


When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.



Audiobook review

5 stars

“Was that the price of power? For her mind to shatter?”


Two facts first:

1) Emily Woo Zeller is an extremely talented narrator! She immersed me in this story right from the beginning. She also has an incredible talent at speaking in different voices, all believable, all right.

2) I can’t believe this is the first work from this author! Nothing feels tentative, no common mistakes that you can find in first work. Everything is precise, detailed and perfectly executed.


The Poppy War is gripping, brutal, horrific, uncompromising and fascinating.

It deals with topics that are big triggers for me. Drugs and addiction is one of them.  Usually I would have stopped reading but somehow RF Kuang made me understand why the characters just had to take drugs.

Yet as much as I am smitten with this story I fear reading the sequel! I can’t fathom how this will end with a HEA. I also fear reading/listening to some favorite characters becoming more and more addicted to drugs. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach this.


But what’s the Poppy War about?


The Poppy War is about a war orphan, Rin, trying to forge her destiny.

In a country where she had no power as women had only a value as bride or whore she did not want any of this. All along Rin will demonstrate an iron will.

Honestly she is one of the strongest heroines I’ve ever read about.

Pain became her friend because pain reminded her of her goal. “Pain was the answer”

RF Kuang spared her nothing. Absolutely nothing.

She had to earn every of her victories.

The first challenge was to ace the Keju.

She was a war orphan, slaving on an opium farm and forced to marry an older man. She did not want any of this so her only hope was to win the Keju to enter a military academy. But she’d never gotten the same education as other students from wealthy families. She’ll have to learn everything by herself cramming five years of studies into two. All while working for her “family”.

She’ll study at night. She won’t sleep. When she can’t stay awake any more she’ll burn herself with candles to just stay awake and study some more.

Can you imagine it?

And when she’ll succeed, she will be interrogated and threatened by officials who wanted her to confess on cheating.


Once at the academy, she will be ostracized and kept separated as she was a peasant. One of her teachers will even evict her from his class and she’ll have to learn by herself something very difficult to do so.

Most would have abandoned.

But not Rin.

Never Rin.

She was fueled by revenge. By the desire to show everyone that she could do it. She hated injustice and privileged kids. SHE WANTED POWER!


I won’t give you all the details of the plot here but know that revenge, hate and power are central topics of this story.

With all the side effects of revenge. Because vengeance is a never ending circle.

“If there was one thing Rin had learned about her country’s history, it was that the only permanent thing about the Nikara Empire was war.”



I was fascinated by Rin’s journey. She will go through so many ordeals she had nearly no respite.

She’ll have one friend at the academy and many enemies.

Some enemies will turn allies under extreme circumstances in the book. I loved how RF Kuang made me despise them when Rin did and like them when Rin did too. This author swayed my mind and opinion like weed dance with the wind.

She did it for the characters that I hated then loved, for the drug problem that I usually would not could have read about but that she made me somehow “tolerate” and she did it again when the book turned to a pitch-black tone. Something so brutal, horrific and full of gore that I usually simply cannot read without vomiting.


This story will give you nightmares. It will send you in pits of despair when humankind shows its most monstrous face. It will give you power when someone who’s fate seemed sealed turned the tables and soared like a Phoenix feeding from pain and hate.


Recommend it? Absolutely but don’t go looking for romance and unicorns as you won’t find it.


Have you read it?


Thanks for reading!



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25 Replies to “The Poppy War by RF Kuang was a powerful and terrible story. Audiobook review”

  1. Fantastic review, Sophie! I’m always drawn to books that shake my socks and take me out of my comfort zone. Every now and again at least… I couldn’t take the stress of reading them all the time!

    1. Thank you Daisy!!

  2. Mary @StackingMyBookShelves! says: Reply

    No unicorns…Well…I still want to read this one! =)


  3. Haven’t read this yet but it’s on my TBR list! I’m glad you loved it! I hope I’ll get to it soon! Great review, though!

    1. Thank you Raven!!!

  4. I am really looking forward to this one, but I must prepare myself emotionally because it seems really heavy. Stlll haven’t come across a reader who didn’t enjoy this one.

    1. Beware Of The Reader says: Reply

      That’s true Alicia! I have never read a bad review so far!

  5. I added this to my list but never got around to reading it. I’ll move it up now. Thinking I should do the audible now too!

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Oh Laura as you like angst and horror you will really like this one! Not an horror per say but unflinching with lots of gore. And if you do listen to the audio please give me your feedback about the narrator.

  6. Sounds like a great story, and I’ve heard so much praise for it. But you are right – it’s definitely too full of triggers for me.

  7. I am so thrilled to hear you enjoyed this! It was my favorite book of last year. I read the print but I can imagine this one being so intense in audio.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Oh Mogsy is you can listen to it as the narrator is extremely talented!!! But aren’t you frightened to read the sequel?

  8. Hahaha unicorns and romance! You are so right about that. This is terribly depressing and makes me want to harm myself. I didn’t regret reading it because it was a buddy read and so fascinating to see what my friend thought but yeah I think I’m going to have to pass on the sequel. ❤️

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Dani I think I will read/listen to the sequel but as I said I am honestly frightened ….

      1. I’m sure you’ll love it Sophie! 😉

  9. This was one of my favorite books of the year. I am going to read the sequel soon.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      I have seen that you are lucky to have gotten the ARC Jen!!! So jealous!

  10. Tanya Atkinson says: Reply

    Oh my goodness, this sounds unflinchingly brutal. What an amazing and strong main character! It sounds like a lot to take – but also worth it.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Exactlt Tanya and the narrator was exceptional! I would encourage you to listen to the story.

  11. This was one of my favorite books last year! Looks like I have a thing for dark fantasy books!
    Glad you loved it 😀

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Oh it does not surprise me in the least ;-))))

  12. This is in my Top 10 books to buy this coming month. So I’m glad to see that you loved it, despite your reservations, Sophie. Because I’ve heard so many good things about the author, I knew I had to read it. I think I’ll be buying this one this weekend!!! 😀

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      And then I’ll wait to read what YOU thought of it Alexandra! 😉

      1. Brilliant review!
        The shamanism aspect sounds so cool. Good to know about the serious drug triggers. Means I really shouldn’t suggest it to my sister. She went through opiate addiction. Prescribed meds for pain, but that doesn’t make it any less addictive. I’m so thankful I don’t have a drug addictive physiology. It was so hard to watch her fight out of it.
        I love finding good narrators!! That is prime importance for me for audiobooks.

        1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

          Aislynn I agree with you on prescribed meds for pain being no less addictive. I had friends struggling with it too and that’s why every book with drugs is difficult for me.

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